Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Re: [MISP] op ed by Eric Witt and Paul Shipley

Hi Folks – The version of the article posted to this list earlier was a draft version inadvertently released by the Film Office.  Below is the article as it actually ran in the NM Business Weekly – some subtle but important content and stylistic changes.  Thank you all for your support of the New Mexico film industry.  Rock on.


-  Eric Witt, Office of the Governor



Maybe the Chinese would like our film industry

New Mexico Business Weekly - by Eric Witt

Date: Friday, December 10, 2010, 4:00am MST

I’m a Communist. I didn’t know it, but I am — at least according to Xinhua, the official Chinese party news outlet, which recently ran an article praising the recapture of film production in the U.S., led by efforts such as we have established in New Mexico.

Xinhua cited the heightened importance of this development, since filmmaking is a manufacturing endeavor which, unlike the huge segment of the U.S. economy that is now service-driven, has a very broad and deep impact across the entire general economy. The article points out that film production is “one of the few industries that have a trade surplus with foreign countries, which is significant for the United States as it faces a huge deficit and recession.”

The article relates information from a report by the Motion Picture Association of America that the industry supported 2.4 million private-sector jobs and contributed more than $140 billion in wages in 2008. Direct production employment contributed more than $41 billion in wages “across every major occupational group,” at an average salary of $55,600 — 26 percent higher than the national average.

The article also quotes John Morton, assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the primary federal anti-piracy agency and hardly a liberal outfit — saying the film and television industry is a “bedrock” of the U.S. economy.

“Its creativity and imagination have made American entertainment one of our greatest exports over the decades,” he said.

And New Mexico is playing a starring role in this production.

So if communists and conservatives alike understand the economic and cultural impact of this industry, why do some political wags here in New Mexico seem to have such a hard time getting their heads around it? Why do they continue to cite bogus “studies” that show returns of mere pennies on the dollar from our film incentives, when even their own economists concede the actual impact is many multiples of that? Or studies based on other states’ incentives, which have nothing to do with how our program is set up?

Why do they ignore information in reports generally critical of film incentives in other states that grudgingly admit New Mexico has “done it right” in terms of infrastructure and work force development that maximize the capture of dollars in the local economy? Why do they refer only to dollars paid out under our incentive programs, while completely ignoring the vastly greater amount of money and jobs coming in on the other side of the ledger?

Why do they rail against film incentives — the most audited and reported incentives the state operates — while conveniently overlooking all the other industries that receive favorable financial treatment, collectively (and in some cases, individually) orders of magnitude larger than what is offered to film, yet for which virtually no reporting or return-on-investment analyses exist? Why don’t they apply the same reporting and ROI standards to their special interests — be they agriculture, oil and gas, mining, vehicle sales, what have you — as they do for film?

I’m not knocking these other industries at all. I’m a huge fan of every one of them. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, no?

These are all good questions. The answers will be critical in the auto-da-fé of the upcoming legislative session, where some will disingenuously try to pit expenses of the film program against, say, education or child care — a completely bogus juxtaposition, given that the money and jobs from film production mean more money available for these other endeavors, and less money spent on public assistance, than would be the case if the industry were to disappear.

So, before you let some folks go off half-cocked about the specifics of the film program here in New Mexico — a program widely regarded as the “gold standard” in terms of training, job creation, dollars captured locally and professionalism — ask yourself why these other questions aren’t even being asked, much less answered, by its opponents.

Of course, we could always just ship this industry over to the Chinese, too. Seems like they’d be more than happy to take it.

Eric Witt is deputy chief of staff and film & media industries adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson. He can be reached at


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